What Is Cosmic Education?

You may hear the term “Cosmic Education” when discussing the Montessori Elementary curriculum. But what is Cosmic Education, and how is it valuable to the child’s experience?

Cosmic Education is an educational approach founded by the Italian physician-educator Maria Montessori in the first half of the 20th century and developed in detail by her son, Mario Montessori, after her death in 1952. It is rooted in the principle that a knowledge of the universal whole allows us to understand the value and purpose of its parts, and how their individual stories form a larger narrative.

In the last 50 years, many scientific discoveries regarding the universe have been uncovered. Maria Montessori was a visionary with great insight. Even in her time, she could foresee the potential unfolding of scientific knowledge and its impact to future generations. In her 1942 work, To Educate the Human Potential, Montessori stated:

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe… If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder… The knowledge he then acquires is then organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him… No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The result of this educational approach, at both the elementary and the university levels, is a curriculum that unifies all the subjects of human knowledge into one, coherent, continuous, and comprehensive study.

Historian David Christian continues this approach in his course work today, explaining:

“Big history surveys the past at all possible scales, from conventional history, to the much larger scales of biology and geology, to the universal scales of cosmology. It weaves a single story, stretching from the origins of the Universe to the present day and beyond, using accounts of the past developed within scholarly disciplines that are usually studied quite separately.”

The importance of the Cosmic Education approach is beautifully demonstrated in Christian’s The History of Our World in 18 Minutes, the introduction to his Big History university course, seen here as presented at the TED conference in March 2011.

Individual Ownership of Learning

When parents are choosing Montessori education for their child, they are trusting their child to take his learning into his own hands. The environment is designed to allow students to discover and learn on their own. The materials are self-correcting and are used until the child says, “I did it.” This type of learning is very different from traditional learning. In a traditional learning environments, information is housed with the teacher. The teacher instructs the child what is important to learn and through rote effort, the child memorizes the information. To confirm that the student learned the information necessary, the student takes a written test. Weeks later, though, students have often forgotten or have a diminished memory of what they were taught. In the Montessori environment, children discover the answers themselves, so information and learning is housed within them. They may then draw connections between the newly learned information and other topics and events in their lives.

This article on mariamontessori.com highlights one family’s experience with individual ownership of learning. In seeing their son Wyatt’s newly developed writing skills, his parents questioned, “Who taught Wyatt how to write?” Wyatt’s response: “I did.”


Process Precedes Content


“As a child becomes familiar with the expectations in a Montessori classroom, they develop a sense of internal order helping them navigate through the multitude of decisions they make on a daily basis. Part of the core foundation of a Montessori classroom is ‘freedom with responsibility.’

“A Montessori student enjoys the freedom of choosing a variety of work, once they have learned the specific steps of using the materials and to work at the level matching their experience and abilities.

“Often, it takes time and practice for a child to use the materials in the way they were initially presented by the teacher. If a child is not engaging the materials in a concise way, it becomes vital for the teacher to continually model the way it needs to be done. The child needs a clear view of how something is done in order to achieve mastery of the skill.


“If the child is left with an unfinished impression of how to do something, they are not enjoying the higher level of confidence they could experience by following a process that is tried and true. Integrating a process of how something is done is the foundation for learning. We know that a sure, steady organized approach to a work is going to net a better experience for the child and increase the likelihood of them using the materials independently again.

“Even at home, it can be helpful to encourage your child to take their time with any tasks you might ask them to do. Maybe putting their toys away in an organized and consistent process could help foster the habit of slowing down and doing something with full attention.”

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From the P2 Blog

Middle School On The Move

Our Middle School Students are always doing and learning so much that it’s hard to keep up. And Middle School Head Teacher Ms. Erica chronicles it all every two weeks on her amazing blog — subscribe today to get posts by email.

Here are just a few highlights from last week:

  • Students visited Opportunity Village and had a blast singing, dancing, doing comedic improv and more. Student blogger Logan writes: “If there is one thing that I learned from this trip, it would be that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, how you talk, or the way you walk, every human on the face of this planet has something in common with everyone around them. So, all it takes to make a make a friend is to smile and say Hello.” READ MORE AND SEE PICTURES HERE (password protected).
  • E1 celebrated Pi Day with no less than ELEVEN different mathematical “Pi Stations,” including PiTunes, Pi-doku, Pi Graphs and Radial Radii. And of course, there was pie.
  • Students are learning all about Asia and are focusing on the geography, culture and architecture of the Middle East. From the blog: “This week we looked at pictures from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, and Armenia, which illustrated a little of the architecture, beautiful landscape, and cultural diversity of a region with both European and Asian influences. One seventh grader admiring the photos of Dubai said, ‘I want to go there. I want to go everywhere!'”
  • Students created a chronology of World War I that included biographies of key players and tracked American involvement. They even built their own “weapons”!
  • In Language, students are reading and analyzing various novels including Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. From the blog: “This novel first appeared during the era which historians label ‘the McCarthy period,’ the post-war political climate characterized by xenophobia, blacklisting and censorship. Many of the issues explored in the novel cannot be separated from the historical period in which it appeared. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns. This novel commands lively discussion.”
  • Math studies included illustrating exactly why, as Pythagoras claimed, a^2 + b^2 = c^2!,.
  • “Middle schoolers are in the thick of the Circulatory System, and are anxious for our upcoming dissection of cow hearts! This dissection will give them a very clear picture of our recent studies: heart chambers, valves, the aorta, the vena cava, pulmonary vessels, the path of blood, and more! It doesn’t matter how many diagrams or books we have to share; nothing compares to holding an actual heart in your palms and learning through that type of hands-on experience. We hope you can join us for the big day!”
  • And finally, gardening: “Thank you to Marnie and Teri for helping us begin our new round of gardening! After the eighth graders’ trip to Star Nursery, the middle schoolers planted our basil and peppers on the outskirts of our box. Do you know what’s going in the middle?”

Phew! To read more and see more pictures, don’t forget to check out Ms. Erica’s E1 blog. And try to keep up!

*Don’t forget to stop by the Foothills Montessori School parking lot this Saturday from 8 AM to noon for a special sale to benefit Roos ‘n’ More, a local family-owned rescue-oriented zoo in need of donations. Student Maddie Hoggan writes: “Last semester, one of our field trips included visiting this zoo and it was one of the most memorable field trip experiences I’ve ever had. Two veterinarians that have a love for unusual animals own the zoo and they help provide care for animals that come there. Most of these animals, because they are so fond of humans, love to be held and played with. Recently, the zoo has been shut down in their transition to becoming a commercial property due to the size of their septic tank and lack of paved walkways. They will not reopen on site until they’ve raised the $300,000 necessary to address the issues. We hope our Parking Lot Sale can be a part of achieving that goal. We hope you drop by on the 22nd!”


Concentration in the Classroom

“Children are born with an amazing capacity for learning and interacting with their parents and their peers. It is the gift of the Montessori education that a child is methodically shown the process for doing a job, moving in the classroom, or taking care of their body (eating and washing hands, putting on a jacket).

“All of this attention to ‘how’ the work is done reinforces the idea that if you slow down and pay attention to the order of the task and to the way your work is laid out, then you will get it done with more ease and in a less stressful way.


“To the untrained eye, it may not be obvious why a teacher would sit one on one with a three year old and carefully watch them transfer items from one bowl to another. Yet the grasp of the item is important (as it leads to the coordination of holding a pencil, the fundamentals of writing). The transferring of the items from left to right is also important, as it trains the young student’s eyes and mind to move in the same direction they will be using when they read words on a page.

“We are also mindful of the way the materials are handled by the student; are they engaged with the specific task at hand or are their eyes wandering away from the job to look around at their friends? Can they develop the concentration to be fully present with the task at hand? All of these core behaviors create the template for learning, not only from an academic view; but for how all information is received and processed internally. It is a lens for living their lives.” — From the P2 Blog

Summer Fun at FMS

Our Summer Program has been redesigned to feature hands-on learning through Montessori materials, arts and crafts, cooking and music, and dynamic educational activities. Choose from among ten different sessions, or stay for the whole summer. Your child will enjoy stimulating academics and exciting activities built around ten unique themes — from Spanish Immersion to the arts and literature, from environmental awareness to animals, from science experiments to Writer’s Workshops, and more.

Primary sessions are open to ages 3-6 and elementary sessions are open to ages 6-12. You do not need to be a Foothills Montessori School student to attend; our Summer Program is open to the public. Invite your friends and make new ones as you enjoy a summer filled with fun and learning at Foothills Montessori.

Call 702-407-0790 for more information or click here to read about each summer session.

Early bird registration ends May 1.

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Physical Education Enhances Cognition

The Effects of Enhanced Physical Education on Academic Achievement

Schools around the country are reducing the amount of time devoted to PE. It is the predominate feeling among some administrators that physical education reduces the instruction time in core academic subjects. These administrators fail to see the connection between physical education and classroom learning. This month I decided to research this topic. Here are a few of the key findings:

Connection Between The Body and The Mind

Human and animal studies show brain areas involved in movement and learning are intimately connected, and physical activity could increase those neural connections (Uensen,1998; Shephard, 1997). Learning complex movement sequences stimulates the prefrontal cortex used in learning and problem solving, and this effect could improve learning. Neuroimaging data revealed changes in neural activity in the prefrontal cortex  corresponding to the benefit of exercise on executive function observed in the exercise groups.

A review of over a hundred studies concluded that physical activity is associated with selected advantages in cognitive function, specifically math, acuity and reaction time (Thomas, Landers, Salazar, & Etnier, 1994) .

Improving Grades

Statewide studies have found a positive relationship between FitnessGram (a fitness assessment and reporting program for youth) scores and performance on academic achievement tests. Another large and long-tern study was conducted in Trois Rivieres, in Quebec, Canada, beginning in the mid 1970s (Shephard,jeQuier, LaVallee, LeBarre, & Rajic, 1980; Shephard, LaVallee, VoIle, LaBarre, & Beaucage,1994; Shephard et al., 1984). Students in first through sixth grades received increased time for physical education and decreased time for other types of instruction. Improvements were reported, not only in fitness and psychomotor abilities, but in class grades also.

Improving Attention Span and Classroom Behavior

Physical activity might alter attention span through neurohormonal mechanisms, which could improve the child’s ability to focus in the classroom (Shephard, 1997). A summary of the fifty most rigorous studies exploring the relationship between indicators of physical activity and academic performance found 251 associations between physical activity and academic performance, representing measures of academic achievement, academic behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes. Of all the associations examined, slightly more than half (50.5%) were positive, 48% were not significant, and only 1.5% were negative.


In a period when greater emphasis is being placed on preparing children to take standardized tests, these studies should give school administrators reasons to consider investing in quality physical education and vigorous activity programs, even at the expense of time spent in the classroom. Time devoted to physical activity at school  may actually improve academic performance.

The health benefits of physical activity are well-known. Therefore, the implementation of accessible, low-cost physical activity programs for youth should be pursued without delay.

These well-researched benefits are playing out everyday here at Foothills Montessori School both on the field and in the classroom. Our students are getting fit and staying healthy during PE. When they return to the classroom, the effects of exercise are enhancing the already incredible work our teachers are doing.

Spring Comes to Foothills

“The children are eagerly planting strawberries, tomatoes, banana peppers, bell peppers, Asian lettuce, eggplants, and ornamental red and white cabbage … The apricot tree in the garden is waking up from a long winter’s nap. Our artists are painting what they see, and their artwork is hanging in the tree! What a beautiful sight for moms and dads to see!” — From Ms. Val’s Outdoor Classroom Blog



See pictures on Ms. Val’s blog (FMS Parents only).

Teaching Creativity

A recent New York Times article titled “Learning to Think Outside the Box: Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline” spotlights a new trend in education: teaching students the art and science of creative thinking.

This is a departure from the standardized, compartmentalized approach that has dominated both secondary and higher education systems for the past century. Many colleges across the country are beginning to offer certificates, minors, Master’s degrees and even PhDs in creative studies, and transdisciplinary studies (the fusion of seemingly unrelated subjects such as, say, art and engineering) are becoming more prevalent.

Education is seen by many as preparation for the job market, and in this instance, the new wave of campus brainstorming sessions is being driven by market demand. The article cites a recent IBM study that surveyed 1,500 chief executives from 33 fields. What was the number one factor they considered critical to their success? Creativity.

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status,” remarks Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert. His 2006 Ted Talk “How Schools Kill Creativity”, currently the most-watched Ted Talk of all time, argues that schools are doing a vast disservice to children, society and humanity as a whole by not cultivating this powerful innate capacity for inspiration and innovation.  He has said that “all kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly” and laments that we are “educating people out of their creative capacities.”

The importance of creativity seems obvious, especially in such a dynamic, fast-paced and challenging civilization such as ours. As technology becomes more advanced, it threatens to overtake many of the more left-brained occupations that has powered our growth throughout the 20th century. Pundits and government officials stress the importance of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and indeed these skills will continue to be vital and in high demand in the decades ahead. On the other hand, for someone to invent “the next big thing” and to thrive despite the increasing demands, fast-paced change and global competitiveness of a 2020 world, they will have to be much more than a head full of facts, figures and formulas. They will have to be someone who dreams.